Path to Publication Part 4: Mea Culpa

Photo by Rob Hart

Recap: This is a monthly column about trying to publish my crime/noir/literary novel, New Yorked. Click here for previous installments.

I just got back from Shake Shack. If you don't live in New York City (or one of the other random cities where it's popped up, like Dubai), Shake Shack is a gourmet burger joint. It's a wonderful, albeit crowded, place to eat.

Halfway through lunch I was hit by an odd juxtaposition of feelings, which I keep coming back to while writing this: Being so satisfied by an amazing burger, and being so profoundly depressed in the same moment.

I was getting lunch with a prestigious author (don't ask who, not telling) who offered to read my book and give me feedback. We talked for an hour. The Author called the book promising and even assuaged my fears over one of the more divisive aspects of the story.  

We also talked about the problems, with the protagonist and the plot. The Author encouraged me to do a page-one rewrite, explaining that the book had potential, which it hadn't quite reached. Which was a wonderful, encouraging thing to hear from someone I admire.

Of course, what I wanted to hear was: The book was publishable. Even though I spent nearly 24 hours tempering my hopes and keeping my expectations in check, I still felt, as we crossed the West Side Highway, that this day might be the start of something big.

But the more we talked about the book, the more I realized that I knew these problem existed, and I had chosen to remain blind in the interest of finishing.

I've come back to this several times, here and elsewhere: Amy Hempel once told me that young writers often make the mistake of wanting to publish more than wanting to write well. I want to write well. If it means waiting another year or two to be finished, so be it.

I'm not angry, because the feedback I got was generous and sensible without being sugarcoated. Some of it was interesting, but I won't pursue it. Some of it was dead-on accurate, and I'm ashamed I didn't make these connections--or that I did, and was so able to deny them.  

I thought I was done. I moved on to a novella and was getting excited about that. But it's time to go back to New Yorked. Halfway through the conversation, I think I understood where the story needs to go, for it to work. 

I keep trying to come up with some clever analogy for how I feel, but I can't. This is how I feel: That I worked my ass off to get to the summit of Mount Everest, and when I got there, I realized my perspective was completely skewed, and there was still a whole lot more mountain to climb. So I'm going to sit on a rock and feel sorry for myself, for a couple of minutes at least, and then get back to climbing. 

I've never climbed Mount Everest--or any mountain--so this might be a terrible analogy. I don't know. It's the only one I've got right now. 

Anyway, I'm sorry. I've talked a lot of shit about this process and got way ahead of myself, on a few avenues. Worst, I feel like I've let you down, because I've gotten a great deal of kindness and support in writing this column.

Thanks again for that.

Rob Hart

Column by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, and Scott Free with James Patterson. His next novel, Paradox Hotel, is due from Ballantine. Find more at

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Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books April 4, 2012 - 7:50am

No apologies necessary. It's all part of the process and it sounds like you're doing it right. And even though this may be the last one for a while, it makes for an interesting column. Good luck, man.

liveslashdie's picture
liveslashdie April 4, 2012 - 8:20am

I really enjoyed this column. Hopefully you'll keep going with it in the future. I'd like to here about how  you tackle the rewriting. Best of luck, mate.  

.'s picture
. April 4, 2012 - 10:27am

Rubbing shoulders with authors in burger joints. Dude you're already half way there! Can't wait to read your book Rob.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 April 4, 2012 - 11:38am

But what's wonderful about this piece Rob is its honesty.

This is what happens. You think you're ready and you take the next step and so you do, but the only way to find out that you weren't quite there is to take that step. You're on the right path - and can I just say I have sooo been there (still am to a degree) but this, like everything before it is part of the process. And so long as you are honest about it and realistic I believe you'll get there. You absolutely seem to have the right attitude which is a huge part of the package (and process).

Best of luck to you - and like others - I'd be interested in seeing a column about your rewrites if you find it's interesting or helpful to you.


jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners April 4, 2012 - 2:17pm

I hope this is not the last installment of this column. It's enlightening and I'm still hoping for a happy ending! (at least a few more plot twists...)

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this April 4, 2012 - 2:35pm

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. 

Kelly, I thought about that for a hot second, about chronicling my edits, but I think I need to spend more time writing, and less time writing about writing. 

Jenny, this is my last Path to Pub column (for now), but I'll still be writing plenty of stuff around these parts. Thanks so much for reading. 

Bobby Detrick's picture
Bobby Detrick from Bakersfield CA is reading World War Z and The Hunger Games April 11, 2012 - 10:25pm

"Amy Hempel once told me that young writers often make the mistake of wanting to publish more than wanting to write well."

So true bro! I fell in that hole myself. The weird part though the book I was going to try and get published got put on the shelf when a practice pitch of another novel idea got such a great response from the writing workshop I attend. The author who runs the workshop told me the concept would be a better break out novel and that my other one should be saved as extra ammo. Thought I'd be doing signings by now, but started from scratch with a whole new story and loving where it’s going. On chap ten out of probably sixteen and the process is only taking like one/ fourth the pace as my first novel. 
What I’m saying is that most of this shit is out of your system and you’re going to be surprised how quickly you will be done with the rewrite or even the writing process of another story. And I agree with the others on a REWRITE COLUMN! It be great encouragement for you as much as us.
GL and GG –Rob
-Bobby D    


Amcii Cullum's picture
Amcii Cullum from Columbia, SC; now living in Atlanta, GA is reading currently, several source materials for JavaScript and JQuery April 25, 2012 - 2:53pm

I want to read your work.  You are so close it seems.  Good Luck man.  It sounds like you are near dreams coming true. I write poetry and am attempting prose though it is such tough work.  Accolades and more to you.

Cat Phillips's picture
Cat Phillips from Western Canada is reading Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes May 1, 2012 - 8:09am

I'm sad to see this series postponed, but I'm sure you'll be back at it soon. It' been very inspirational to me so far! I'm going through the same thing myself right now. I just sent out my first batch of query letters last week, and I've already received my first form rejection!

I'm chronicling my own experience with trying to get published here:

If all of my first five queries get rejected like this, I guess I'll be writing about the re-write experience instead.

When you do get back to writing about writing, though, we'll all be waiting with bated breath!

Best of Luck :)